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Researchers receive funding to help evaluate Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program

In response to emerging trends in prescription drug abuse in Florida, University of Florida researchers have partnered with the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to analyze new developments and examine the effectiveness of the state monitoring entity.

Due to various factors, the number of deaths from prescription pain relievers in Florida has fallen from a high of 2,710 overdose deaths in 2010 to 1,916 deaths in 2013, the lowest number since 2003. In addition, from 2012 to 2013, there was an 8.3 percent decrease in the number of deaths caused by one or more controlled substance prescriptions in Florida as well as a 53 percent reduction in the number of patients engaged in ‘doctor shopping,’ a practice some patients employ to gain access to additional prescriptions. The statistics are promising, but new trends continue to emerge and UF College of Medicine researchers say it’s crucial to monitor them.

The research team, which includes Chris Delcher, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health outcomes and policy; Mildred Maldonado-Molina, Ph.D., an associate professor of health outcomes and policy; and Bruce A. Goldberger, Ph.D., a professor and director of toxicology in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine, believe that one of the reasons for these declines is the increase in the number of health care providers using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Signed into law in 2009, Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program monitors individuals’ controlled substance prescriptions and provides important and up-to-date data regarding prescribing trends in Florida.

The Florida Department of Health is pleased to collaborate with researchers at the University of Florida to ensure that new initiatives put forth by the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program are as effective as possible,” said John Armstrong, M.D., the state surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health. “Prescription drug abuse rates are dropping in Florida, and this partnership will help further protect children, families and communities across our state.”

New trends also show a shift in prescribing rates for opioids throughout the state, with providers in North Florida and the Panhandle writing prescriptions for these drugs at twice the rate of providers in South Florida. The researchers will continue to gather data from multiple sources to monitor these trends.

“UF is working side-by-side with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to detect new trends and inform a multidisciplinary team to effectively prevent prescription drug abuse, which can in turn decrease overdoses and deaths,” said Delcher, who is a co-principal investigator with Goldberger on this project. “In addition, we hope to launch several new initiatives that will improve registered health care providers’ ability to retrieve useful information from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.”

One of the initiatives, funded by a portion of a $400,000 Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant, is analyzing feedback from health care providers who use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program daily. Since launching in October 2011, the program has instituted changes and more have been requested, including enhanced notifications and alerts in the system and automated notifications if patients are reaching nationally recommended thresholds for the amount of prescription opioids they can safely consume. Through focus groups and a survey, the UF researchers will examine if these changes have affected the usability of the database as well as the number of health care providers who use the database.

“To get a full, accurate picture of prescription drug use trends in the state, it’s crucial that we have as many health care providers as possible using the system,” said Goldberger, the chief of forensic medicine in the UF College of Medicine. “These systems are helpful for prescriber-patient interaction as well as in investigating mortality cases due to overdose.”

In addition, the researchers will assist the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in the creation of maps that will show where controlled substances are prescribed at higher rates than expected based on a variety of factors, such as sociodemographics. Several preliminary maps are included in this year’s annual report, which the UF team helped create. One map, which shows the prescribing rate of opioids by county in Florida, is available here.

“This field of inquiry shows great promise in helping to improve the health of Floridians and prevent drug-related deaths,” said Maldonado-Molina, the project’s other investigator. “We are excited about this new partnership, which seeks to improve public health in Florida.”

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